It takes more than eCommerce skills: How to upskill CPG teams for eCommerce success

eGrocery is evolving at eye-watering speed, but not all CPG teams have the skills to make the most of the online opportunity. Read on and learn how to level up your eCom skills today.

Presented by: 
Stephanie Rubin2022

This post has been updated and was originally published April 2021.

eGrocery is evolving at eye-watering speed, but does your team have the skills to make the most of the online opportunity? Read on and learn:

  • Why CPG businesses need to create a safe space before they teach the basics
  • How use case studies prove a powerful tool for learning eCommerce skills
  • Why you recruiting for attitude over ecommerce skills will help CPGs win long term

Expedite your teams' eCommerce skills to win on the digital shelf

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of eCommerce skills? 

Data collection and analysis? Content creation? Online customer engagement? Digital marketing and advertising? Or perhaps technical know-how such as SEO, UX, or AI? 

Browse the latest eCommerce vacancies at major CPGs, and you’ll certainly find such skills high on employers’ wish lists. With good reason: the massive shift to online buying in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need for organizations to accelerate their digital capabilities and bring in tech talent. Labor market insight from ZipRecruiter shows the number of eCommerce job postings surged by 231% between February 2020 and February 2021.

Increasingly, however, CPGs also face a new eCommerce skills challenge – one that has less to do with specialist talent and more with raising the bar on knowledge across the organization.

To make the most of the online opportunity created by the pandemic, brand owners know they need sales managers, marketing managers, category managers, and key account managers who truly ‘get’ eCommerce. And they need digital specialists who understand the unique complexities of CPG and the wider market context they operate in.

So, how can they make this happen? Based on our experience of working with CPG companies and upskilling their teams, here are a few principles to keep in mind.


Make it safe to learn the basics of eCommerce skills

Upskilling for eCommerce starts with education. 

A surprising number of people make wrong assumptions about the digital shelf, including senior managers. CPGs that want to succeed in eCommerce need to find ways to correct these assumptions, but doing so requires sensitivity and tact. 

It can be hard for experienced CPG professionals who grew up in a physical store environment to go back to the drawing board and re-learn fundamental skills. Openly challenging them or pointing out gaps in their knowledge can make people feel defensive and less likely to want to learn about eCommerce. 

Instead, CPGs need strategies for exposing their teams to online fundamentals in a way that feels psychologically safe. Team briefings, presentations, and internal documents all provide opportunities for recapping on key concepts without singling anybody out. 

Throughout, don’t assume the basics are a given. Provide regular opportunities for teams to be educated on how things work, pick up new ideas, and correct misconceptions.

Use case studies and live examples to bring eCommerce skills to life

‘Show, don’t tell’ is a fundamental principle of storytelling, and it’s just as relevant when upskilling CPG teams.

Abstract information can be hard to absorb. We often see teams struggle to translate theoretical knowledge into an understanding of how things work in reality.

One of the best ways to overcome this is by using real-life examples. By walking teams through a live example of, say, an online promotion, and showing them how decisions play out for everyone in the supply chain, you trigger that ‘lightbulb moment’ where people identify their own knowledge gap. 

After that, it becomes much easier to educate them and provide further tools and support.


Help eCommerce teams see the bigger picture with eCommerce skills

eCommerce is so fast, dynamic and changeable, it’s easy to get caught up in the detail and lose sight of the wider market context. 

Oftentimes, this is down to organizational structure. If you’re the analyst for Kroger, your job typically involves looking at Kroger data all day. There’s nothing prompting you to see what’s happening in the wider category and the wider retail landscape.

That’s a recipe for trouble. The ability to see the bigger picture and understand the context of the information you’re working with is one of the most underrated skills in eCommerce. After all, if you don’t look around you, you can’t tell if what you’re doing is good, bad or indifferent. 

CPGs should be asking: How do we create opportunities for our eComm specialists to be exposed to relevant information outside their specialism? How do we make it easy for them to learn about the wider category and market?

Focus on outcome over process when building eCommerce skills

One common way teams can lose sight of the bigger picture is by obsessing over process. Strong processes and workflows are, of course, important to eCommerce success, but they shouldn’t distract from achieving the right outcomes.

Let’s take something basic, like an image you want a retailer to display. I’ve seen eCommerce teams get so fixated on ticking all the boxes on process that they fail to spot obvious problems with the image itself.

In theory, they’ve done everything right. In practice, they’ve ended up with a poor-quality image that doesn’t do the brand justice.

As part of their upskilling programs, CPG companies must therefore help eComm specialists understand not only the category and market but also the business context of what they’re working on. In many cases, all it takes is for somebody to take a step back and ask: Is this really the experience we’re trying to create for the consumer?


Recruit for attitude, train for eCommerce skills

It’s a well-worn saying, but it remains true. Soft skills such as communication and openness to change are critical for eCommerce success and easily overlooked.

The market is changing at incredible speed. Having people who are prepared to change with it and continually educate themselves is much more important than having someone who knows something specific today.

By leaning on their eComm partners and external experts, CPGs can keep up to speed with the latest data and knowledge and free up thinking space to focus on hiring people with the right mindset. 

They must also keep a close eye on organizational culture. What separates the great from the mediocre in eCommerce is a willingness to test and learn. Brands need to create an environment where teams – in eComm and elsewhere – feel safe to experiment.

Over time, eCommerce will evolve from a specialist skillset to being part of everybody’s day-to-day roles. The pandemic is just the start. As online accounts for a larger and larger proportion of sales, the need for CPGs to spread eCommerce knowledge across all functions and departments will only increase.


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